Virtual War

We are in a collective Animal Farm

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

In the last two months, lunatic Islamic radicals have failed at weird mass murder plots at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and JFK Airport in New York. And now in Great Britain, more incompetent jihadists were foiled again — thanks to their inability to ignite flammable gas canisters.

Spanish tourists about the same time were butchered in Yemen by a suicide bomber. And, of course, al Qaeda and the Taliban daily try to kill as many Westerners as they can in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I’m sure next week there will be more stories of some poor Westerner or Middle East reformer butchered somewhere by some suicide bomber yelling in extremis “Allah Akbar.” That will be followed almost immediately by a warning from a Western minister not to assume such killing is in anyway connected to Islam.

There is much variety in the ways in which radical Muslim jihadists attack Westerners. Indeed, the collective West is like wandering Odysseus, not sure where the next hideous monster is coming from — an Islamist Calypso, Circe, Cyclops, Lotus-Eater, or Laistrygonian always around the next bend in New York, London, or Madrid.

We learn again that British Muslims, both subjects and aliens, want to blow up as many inside the U.K. as they can. Illegal aliens from Albania in the United States and visitors from Guyana and Trinidad wish to slaughter Americans on a grand scale. Sometimes an angry Iranian-American student wants to run over others on campus; sometimes a deranged Muslim immigrant murders those in shopping centers, or seeks out Jews to shoot or run down.

Some terrorists are petty criminals. Others are well-off doctors. Some work for al Qaeda; others freelance. Many are simply al Qaedistic — the failed and bitter especially, who apparently go into hyperdrive after cheering a particularly gruesome DVD of a Marine blown apart by an IED.

All these killers gripe about Israel. Most cite as grievances Afghanistan and Iraq — or elemental Western decadence. Or is the real culprit Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoons or those supposedly flushed Korans or the pope’s analogies or a Berlin opera?

Despite all our efforts to “reach out” to moderate Muslims, we’ve even forgotten the original reasons that started off bin Laden’s declaration of war — American troops stationed near the “Holy Shrines” of Saudi Arabia and the U.N. Oil-for-Food boycott of poor Iraq.

What has been the systematic response of the West to the serial rampage of terrorists other than temporary “beefed-up” security? The new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown advises us that “the war on terror” is now politically-incorrect since there is no necessary connection between terrorism and Islam. That calm is reminiscent of prior outrage over the images of a British subject caught smoking while a hostage in Iran.

The public at large — after the initial “terrorist news alerts” and warnings about “severe threat-red level” — usually settles down to indifference. Then there is a return to business as usual. Last autumn’s near riots to buy a Playstation3 video game have given way to jostling in long lines for the new i-Phones — both are as essential to madcap consumers as Hillarycare apparently is not.

In the same way, we went right from the postmortem hysteria over Anna Nicole Smith to Paris Hilton’s new “spirituality” after her short jail sentence. With the economy strong and consumers flooded with inexpensive toys, life is very good in the West — much too good to worry about much else. September 11 is as far from us as the Blitz is from Londoners.

For our more engaged and partisan elites, these outrages are more cause for politicking that prompt the old blame game. “The War on Terror” is now a mere bumper sticker, some sort of discredited neocon conspiracy to enrich Dick Cheney and shill for Israel, as the Left alleges unnecessary war abroad and at home a police state followed from trumping up the danger from radical Islam.

Like an oxygen-starved fish flopping about on the pier, we are frenetic, but also exhausted from the press wars over WMD, Halliburton, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. Most of those associated with the Iraqi war are either gone or had their reputations nearly ruined: Paul Bremmer, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and Paul Wolfowitz. Dick Cheney and George Bush are demonized as more the real threats for trying to stop al Qaeda than al Qaeda is for trying to wipe us out.

In short, we are much madder at ourselves than we are at the Islamic radicals who wage war to kill us. So while the terrorists keep at it, we keep at it too — suing in our courts over the rights of terrorists and enemy combatants.

Our senators demand only one answer from our generals — how soon can we flee the ‘mess’ in Iraq? Didn’t the Bush administration’s unwillingness to give aid to Hamas, or to negotiate with Syria and Iran, or sending too few or surging too many to Iraq cause our problems?

Can’t we subpoena the president, the vice president, or at least impeach somebody to express our furor? Isn’t there a word in the English lexicon worse than “the worst” for some blathering news reader to rant about George Bush each night on television?

We may disagree over why Westerners are bickering among themselves and why Muslims want to blow up innocent civilians. But the better question isWhy does it all continue?

Simple. So far the Islamic radicals have failed to repeat mass murder of the magnitude of September 11.

Their only success in killing Westerners is in Iraq, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. And in the postmodern Western paradigm of least resistance, thus the response is simple. Get out of Iraq, then most of our losses cease and the good life goes on and on.

It is hard to describe the leftist approach to the present war, much less to lump together all its various strains. But a common, though unspoken, assumption is simply that so far Western intelligence services, law enforcement, and the U.S. military have so infiltrated, thwarted, scattered, or killed off enough jihadists that for the moment the Islamists no longer possess the ability to kill thousands more Westerners.

As long as that dodge from the terrorist bullet continues, we are thus freed up to bicker and slur — but only up to a certain fuzzy point where even the loud Left is somewhat hesitant to repeal the Patriot Act, stop wiretaps, shut down Guantanamo, withdraw from Iraq, ease up in Afghanistan, and let Iran be Iran. Do all that and today’s incompetent jihadists who can’t even light up a propane tank might well have better luck with a dirty bomb. We are in a collective Animal Farm: Good wiretaps bad!

The result is that we are ever so insidiously slouching back into a 1990s Clintonian mood of lackadaisicalness. If we get out of Iraq and 9/11 passes its sixth anniversary in quiet, we can relax and keep feeding al Qaeda a few diplomats, attachés, or soldiers in godforsaken places where they ought not be anyway.

If worse comes to worse, and al Qaeda gets greedy and harvests more than a few dozen, there is always the cruise missile or Operation Desert Something to bomb camps. But then we blink and get to go back to Paris, Anna Nicole’s ghost, Halliburton, and Dick Cheney’s shotgun. Soon the old Democratic two-step may return: launch a Clinton cruise missile, followed by the landing party of Jimmy Carter to blame the launcher.

I wouldn’t suggest that such a strategy won’t work. While we speak, the formidable powers of globalized communications and commerce, Western popular culture, seductive egalitarianism, consumerism, and informality are relentlessly tearing down the hierarchies within the Muslim world.

Hence follows the real rage of the radical Islamists at our DVDs, internet, cell phones, CDs, jeans, T-shirts, and belly buttons. Those manifestations of a frantic culture seems to drive Dr. Zawahiri himself almost to the point of giving up his Western-inspired infomercials.

Perhaps, there is no antidote to Westernization. In the end, Ahmed and Buffy will alike soon be smirking to a morning show or on The Simpsons, fake listening to rap, hypnotized by video games, discussing our addictions with worldwide Oprah, and nodding to Anderson Cooper’s banalities anyway.

But until we get there, in the exhaustion after Iraq, we are returning to our therapeutic attitude about the harvesting of our citizens here and there. We caricature and slander those in the West who install video cameras, interrogate killers at Gitmo, slug it out in Anbar — all on the expectation that Islamic killers won’t harvest any more than a half dozen or so Westerners each month.

And mostly those reaped in this virtual war will be soldiers, diplomats, or random citizens supposedly in the wrong job, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.

©2007 Victor Davis Hanson

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